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Notebook Science

E.I. Galanzha et al., Science Translational Medicine

(E.I. Galanzha et al., Science Translational Medicine)


Search and destroy

New laser technology detects cancer cells in blood

A new type of laser can find and destroy cancerous melanoma cells in blood with 1,000 times the sensitivity of current detection tools. Most melanoma-related deaths occur because malignant cells at the original tumor site seep into the blood and spread to vital organs before doctors find them, Vladimir Zharov, director of the nanomedicine center at the University of Arkansas, told Live Science.

A machine called a Cytophone, described in the June 12 issue of Science Translational Medicine, shoots laser pulses at the outside of the skin. The laser heats the dark melanin pigment in the malignant cells, and an ultrasound sensor detects the tiny heat waves the cells emit.

Using the new technique, researchers identified circulating tumor cells in 27 of 28 cancer patients within 60 minutes with no false positives for other healthy volunteers, side effects, or skin damage. Scientists intended to find cancer cells but were surprised when they discovered the low-energy laser used for detection also destroyed those cells.

Melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer, will kill an estimated 7,230 people this year.


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John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images

An Ebola victim is buried in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images)


Battling a killer

Health workers continue to fight the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history

The second-worst Ebola outbreak in history continues to wreak havoc in eastern Congo. As of June 5, the disease had infected 2,031 people and killed 1,367. Nearly one-third of the cases involve children under the age of 18.

The region’s high population and close proximity to Rwanda, Uganda, and South Sudan pose a high risk for the virus to spread. On June 11, health officials confirmed a case in Uganda.

An experimental vaccine created by Merck, V920, is highly effective against Ebola. But the number of available doses is limited, and the shot takes roughly 10 days to produce immunity, a Merck representative told Gizmodo. Other hurdles have also made it difficult for health workers to contain the disease: They include widespread violence, people fleeing the country, distrust of government and healthcare workers, and misinformation.

In a glimmer of good news, the World Health Organization reported on June 6 the number of new cases had declined to 88 per week, down from 126 per week in April. But the organization cautioned, “Substantive rates of transmission continue within affected communities, and further waves of the outbreak may be expected.” 

The worst Ebola outbreak in history began in West Africa in 2014 and infected nearly 30,000 people, killing more than 11,000.

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Aaron Favila/AP

(Aaron Favila/AP)


A bony business

Fossil hunters declare a new human species, but some experts say otherwise

For at least the fourth time in two decades, evolutionary researchers have found fossils they say represent a new species of human. But intelligent design experts and young-earth creationists agree that, once again, the find represents just one more ape.

The Homo luzonensis fossils, named after the Philippine island of Luzon on which the researchers found them, consist of seven teeth, two finger bones, three foot bones, and a thigh fragment. Researchers believe the fossils came from two adults and one juvenile. In their study, published April 10 in Nature, scientists dated the fossils to be about 50,000 years old.

Günter Bechly, a paleontologist with the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design organization, believes the fossils most closely resemble the apelike Australopithecus and present a “frustrating mess” for evolutionists. They appeared at the wrong place, at the wrong time, he wrote on the institute’s blog. Scientists can offer no explanation for how such primitive “hominins” found their way to the Philippines, or how (according to evolutionary theory) they could have existed at the same time period as modern humans.

“So much for the popular evolutionist myth that there are no out-of-place fossils thwarting Darwinian expectations,” Bechly wrote.

Gabriela Haynes, a paleontologist with the young-earth creation organization Answers in Genesis, noted scientists cannot prove the fossils represent any sort of new species without skull specimens or DNA evidence, none of which the scientists found. Evolutionists will always interpret their discoveries through the lens of the evolutionary worldview, she said on the organization’s April 15 podcast. But take that lens away, and all that remains is “curved finger and toe bones which clearly point toward an ape.”


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